Luke Visconti, CEO: Diversity Management in Ferguson: What Didn't Happen, What Needs to Happen Now

By Luke Visconti


There are some basic facts about Ferguson, Mo., that mirror the basic facts we find in some corporations: an almost all-white, all-male leadership and a much more diverse “constituency.”

As with corporations, you can follow the numbers to understand how things truly work.

Ferguson is 67 percent Black. It has a white mayor, a 93 percent white city council and a 93 percent white police force. The seven-person school board has no Black members and its most recent significant action was to fire a Black superintendent.

It’s also important to follow the money. According to a recent report from Missouri’s attorney general, the 93 percent white police force’s performance numbers are startling: 86 percent of traffic stops, 92 percent of searches and 92 percent of arrests were of Black people. Of the stops, contraband was found in 22 percent of Black drivers stopped and 34 percent of white drivers stopped. It is important to keep in mind that court revenue can make up almost 50 percent of the revenue of the municipalities in St. Louis County. At the very least, the numbers show that a whole lot more white people should have been pulled over considering the goal of most highway policing in non-urban areas is revenue generation.

We sometimes benchmark companies with these kinds of grossly unrepresentative numbers. There is almost always an attendant disparity in both voluntary and involuntary separations, which signifies a lack of talent development, which mirrors the horrible schools that most Black and Latino children attend. The behavior that leads to disparate leadership statistics also leads to widely divergent views on leadership trustworthiness and credibility. The solution is more engagement of leadership in diversity management, more clarity on the goals in place to achieve those goals. Most importantly, action is required.

Based on my 14 years of studying diversity data in large organizations and hundreds of interactions with chief executive officers, executive committees and senior officers in the armed forces, here’s my advice for Ferguson. It is based on the dramatic distrust that exists now, wrongs that have been committed, and what my experience tells me is necessary to restore calm and move forward.

    1. Remove the Missouri National Guard from Ferguson. Every picture I’ve seen of the National Guardsmen shows me that they’re almost all white. Further, an increase in militarization was exactly the wrong move to make.
  • Fire Police Chief Thomas Jackson immediately. He has lost the confidence of the people of Ferguson by mismanaging the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown. Appoint Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol as police chief for one year.
  • Arrest Officer Darren Wilson. Four bullet wounds that entered Michael Brown’s arms as if they were raised is adequate reason to arrest him, especially considering Michael Brown had no weapons. I understand the process takes time, however the burden of that process has been on the heads of the people during this incident. It’s time to spread that burden equitably. The fact that Michael Brown’s clothing was not available during the outside medical examiner’s autopsy, which may have revealed the presence of powder burns, gives me reason to believe that there were no powder burns and that the teenager was shot from a distance, not within the car. Chief Jackson has proven himself to not be credible; in fact, it’s fair to say that he’s purposefully misinformed the local and national public.
  • The mayor, who has been missing in action, needs to convene an executive diversity council consisting of a representative of the population group of business owners, clergy, retired people who have had responsibility, and average citizens (mothers, schoolteachers, students). A timeframe should be established to develop a diversity plan with goals that would include city services that better meet the needs of the citizens, and mechanisms to reduce mistrust and increase representation in the official facilities and operations of the region. The first action of the diversity council should be to take clear steps to stop the flow of negative information about the dead teenager and open the doors to the process. It is inexcusable that the identity of the police officer was withheld for days while immaterial information about Michael Brown was steadily released in an attempt to destroy his reputation, even though he was dead.
  • Missouri Governor Jay Nixon needs to remove himself from the situation. You would think, by sheer random chance, that he would’ve gotten something right by now, but he hasn’t.

Rebuilding trust will lead to restoring order. Once order is restored, the real work begins with the ultimate goal of raising the circumstances of the citizens of Ferguson and the surrounding ring suburbs of St. Louis, which have suffered economically due to racist actions and lack of action by the local governments. This is where the governor might want to convene an executive diversity council of his own. I recommend Tom Voss, recently retired CEO of St. Louisbased Ameren. He knows what he’s doing and is a real human being.

Ultimately, as with corporations, the goal of diversity management for Ferguson and for Missouri would be to improve efficiency and effectiveness of operations, improve innovation and productivity, increase revenue and decrease expenses, and improve competitiveness. At the soul of all the benefits is trust of all the people, equitably, forthrightly and credibly. It’s not a mysterious process. It has specific steps, and we’ve seen it hundreds of times.

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